Florence - So much history

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Nothing can better define 14th C Florence than Michelangelo Buonarroti's David; young, focused, observant, agile and intelligent. We began a short walking tour of Florence by looking up at the copy of this famous statue which stands in the Piazza Della Signoria. The 1500s were the age of Renaissance or rebirth and this time of change in science, arts and politics made its beginnings here in Florence, Tuscany. No longer would artists be told what to paint or sculpt, or science accept the status quo; Florence and its people were moving ahead into the age of modern thinking. At this time Florence was governed by elected representatives who consisted of merchants and bankers (a democracy) and the great minds of this period such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Filippo Brunelleschi and Leonardo Da Vinci met here and changed the path of history. Florence then proceeded to conquer foe greater in number than itself which led to the later unification of the region we now refer to as Italy. Such success requires a robust and dynamic economy and Florence achieved this through its production of fine textiles, clothing, leather goods and jewellery for which the region is still renowned.

The Plaza Della Signoria features a number of larger than life marble sculptures including The Neptune Fountain by Ammammati, The Equestrian Statue of Cosimo by Giambologna, Rape of the Sabine Woman by Ambologna and Perseus a work in bronze by Benvenuto Cellini which features the beheading of Medusa. Bronze is an extremely difficult medium to work in and to this point in time no work in bronze of this detail had ever been created. This sculpture sent a very clear and chilling message to the adversities of Florence: 'If we can make a sculpture like this in bronze, imagine what kind of artillery we have'. The Plaza Della is situated at the foot of the Palazzo Vecchio with its characteristic powerful square tower thrusting its way above the oversized three story structure which began in 1294 as a fortress.

At the heart of Florence is the Florence Cathedral with its signature eight sided domed roof. In 1294 the decision was made to construct a new cathedral which would replace the existing cathedral; built in the 4th and 5th Centuries over of the ruins of the Roman 'Domus'. Construction of the building hit a number of setbacks including death of the master builder, economic crisis, natural calamities and a plague in 1348. 100 years after construction had commenced, the cathedral was almost complete, however the planned domed roof turned out to be much harder to construct than originally projected. However in 1420, Brunelleschi's engineering genius devised a plan to build the enormous arterial structure without the use of a fixed centre thanks to the adoption of interconnected ribbing. The design actually incorporates two domes, an inner circular structure and an outer octagonal shell to fit to the intended design. The lantern which crowns the dome is not simply there for decoration, it adds a weight which presses down from the top and strengthens the whole dome. Brunelleschi passed away before the structure was completed but requested in his will that the plan be carried out as per his instructions or risk the whole structure collapsing. The front fašade we now see was added by Emilio de Fabris in the 19th Century and completed the cathedral.

Entry to the cathedral is free. The building itself is impressive though I found it to be something of a vast empty space. The floor is tiled and arts and furnishings are minimal. Of interest is the last judgment fresco on the inside of the domed roof which was added in the 1580s and depicts all manner of demons torturing the dammed in the lower sections and the Christ, Mary and the Saints in the upper sections with the struggling or undecided in the midway. For €6 you can climb the cathedral's dome and enjoy the best views in Florence. The climb is challenging and as you ascend the final stages you'll actually be climbing between the dome's two layers. As with the cathedral at Pisa, the bell tower stands separately and the baptistery stands to the west of the cathedral. Both the baptistery and the cathedral's central structure are eight sided representing eternity or infinity.

This baptistery features elaborate mosaics which adorn the interior of its dome and the 'Gates of Paradise' on its eastern side which feature ten bronze gilded panels featuring stories from the Old Testament. These panels are copies; the originals are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo which is situated at the back of the cathedral. Entry to the baptistery is €3 and the museum costs €6 plus another €4 if you want an audio guide.

Florence contains the greatest concentration of valuable art on earth. There are a number of galleries where famous works such as Botticelli's The Birth of Venus can be viewed. I usually don't get art... I can appreciate when something looks nice but beyond that I just don't get it... however, I was so inspired by the copy of Michelangelo's David that I went to see the original which stands in the Galleria Dell'Accademia. Michelangelo carved this sculpture between 1501 and 1504 from a block of discarded marble he found in the cathedral grounds.

I love these stories of things that were discarded being turned into something great and this sculpture is probably the most valuable and brilliant piece of art in existence. On completion David became something of a statue of liberty for the people of Florence; an identity and symbol of their intellect, freedom and creativity. David is alert and ready with sling in his left hand, concealed behind his back and rock partially hidden in his right. What struck me was the sheer larger than life size of the sculpture, its trueness and the detail of its finish. Even if you're not an art buff, don't miss this.
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